The Nordic combined could be eliminated from the Olympics in 2026


After nearly a decade of encouraging the participation of girls and women, the leaders of the Nordic combined, one of the first winter Olympic competitions, were almost certain to have secured the future of their sport for the years to come.

The sport, which demands excellence in ski jumping and cross-country skiing, had established a women’s World Cup circuit and hosted women’s competition at world championships. Countries from North America, Europe and Asia all had participants.

Then came disturbing news from the leadership of the world’s governing body for skiing. International Olympic Committee officials who are in charge of the program for the next Winter Games, scheduled for Milan-Cortina, Italy, in 2026, doubt the sport has progressed enough to merit women’s competition.

And that wasn’t the only bad news. There are concerns that the Nordic combined is not popular enough to merit any competition. The only event without women’s competition, the Nordic combined could be a candidate for elimination, since gender equality is supposed to be a priority for the Olympics.

“Without the women it might be a challenge for us to keep the boys,” said Lasse Ottesen, the former Norwegian ski jumper who is race director for the Nordic combined. “We have a lot of history.”

A vote is scheduled for June 26.

“We are all very frustrated,” Annika Malacinski, the top American in the Nordic combined, said in an interview from Finland, where she is training. “Every athlete strives to be at the elite level, which is the Olympics. If that happens, all the training, blood, sweat and tears, will be for nothing because we are not included in one of the most important competitions.

Malacinski, 21, has put her full-time studies on hold to pursue Nordic combined, hoping to be among the first group of women to compete in the event at the Olympics, much like the women who competed in the first women’s ski jumping competition in 2014. She trains around five hours a day, balancing jumping practice with endurance training and weight training in the gym as she tries to get strong enough for traversing cross-country races but light enough to fly far while jumping.

“It’s hard to believe that even in the 21st century we can experience this kind of inequality,” she said.

The potential loss of the sport is a major cause for concern in northern Europe, where Nordic combined is one of the most popular winter sports.

“Competing in the Olympics means the world to all of us,” said Marte Leinan Lund of Norway, who along with her sister, Mari, is one of the best in the world in Nordic combined. The Leinan Lund sisters (Marte is 21 and Mari is 23), left home and started attending a special school as teenagers, which allowed them to practice sports with the aim of competing in the Olympics . “It is also important that men and women have the same opportunities, both in sport and in general,” added Marte Leinan Lund.

An IOC spokesperson confirmed that the Milan-Cortina sports program is on the agenda for the next Executive Committee meeting, and that the Program Commission will make recommendations but “everything else is speculation. “.

Nordic combined officials and leaders of the FIS, the world governing body for skiing, have been told that what is at stake for the IOC is not just equality but also relevance.

Organizers are trying to limit the size of the Games while incorporating new sports that appeal to a younger generation. The star of the Beijing Games last winter was Eileen Gu, the freestyle skier who won gold medals in big air and halfpipe and a silver medal in slopestyle, events that did not exist there. ten years ago. Big air for skiing was added this year.

Additionally, while IOC officials acknowledge that Nordic Combined has established important women’s competitions, Nordic Combined officials are concerned that countries that compete and excel will include the usual list of Winter Olympic stalwarts, and it there is little potential for top competitors from the South. America, Africa or Asian countries besides Japan.

A century ago, when cross-country skiing and ski jumping were essentially the only types of skiing that existed, a combined event crowned the greatest skier in the world. The first Olympics included only 16 events in nine sports. There are now over 100 events in 15 sports. With the advent of alpine skiing and freestyle, not to mention snowboarding, Nordic combined no longer defines a king (or queen) of the mountain.

Ski officials and athletes say criticism of the sport comes down to moving the goalposts. IOC officials have told the sport it must strive for gender equality and establish female competition. Its leaders have done so, and they see the increasing participation of girls and women as key to broadening the appeal of the sport.

They promise to cut 15 places for men and hold a women’s Olympic competition with 30 athletes, which will only add 15 people to their sport’s Games total.

However, sport leaders fear the IOC will cut its numbers and eliminate the problem of gender inequality by getting rid of the Nordic combined altogether.

“We are scared,” said Horst Huttel, Nordic events manager for Germany.

Nick Hendrickson, the manager of the United States Nordic Combined Team, said he had seen this situation before, but with a much different outcome. Her sister, Sarah, was part of the first group of female ski jumpers. She participated in the Olympic Games in 2014 and 2018.

Once women’s ski jumping was given the green light for Olympic inclusion, funding for the sport increased and the level of competition took off, as 13-year-old girls saw it as a viable route to achieving their Olympic dreams. .

“It’s a bit of a chicken or the egg,” Hendrickson said. “Women’s Nordic Combined has come a very long way. The next step is to be allowed to continue by participating in the Olympics. This is what will push the level of the sport.

But without Olympic inclusion, there might be no sport at all.

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